Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, a project to support parents of children with disabilities

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© UNICEF Bangladesh/2013/Khan
Hridoy, 9, is picked up at school in Dhaka, Bangladesh, by his father, who takes him home. Hridoy's mother left when he was 1 year old and never returned. His father, a rickshaw puller, takes care of him.

By Arifa S. Sharmin

Like all children, those with disabilities have many abilities, but are often excluded from society by discrimination and lack of support, leaving them among the most invisible and vulnerable children in the world.

Today, UNICEF launched its flagship report The State of the World’s Children 2013: Children with Disabilities. The report brings global attention to the urgent needs of a largely invisible population.

In Bangladesh, where children with disabilities face many challenges, the Child Sensitive Social Protection project brings new hope for them and their families.

DHAKA, Bangladesh, 6 June 2013 – Hridoy, 9, and Bristi, 10, are trying hard to keep up with the beat of the music as they dance with other children in the drop-in centre in the Koratitola suburb of Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh.

Moni, a teacher at the centre, notices them struggling and intervenes to make space for them. Their smiles, sparkling eyes and movements show how much they are enjoying the class.

Bristi and Hridoy are both living with disabilities. Bristi has had a neurological disorder since birth, and Hridoy is suffering from mental and physical disabilities.

Tales of struggle  

It took time for Hridoy’s parents to notice that he was suffering from delayed development. “After six months, we noticed that he is different compared to other children his age. He didn’t crawl or make any sound, except he used to cry all the time,” says Masum, Hridoy’s father. “We took him to the doctor, and the physician recommended surgery. It was an expensive procedure.”

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© UNICEF Bangladesh/2013/Khan
Bristi, 10, attends class at primary school in Dhaka. Her mother is not sure she can afford the treatments needed to help her daughter's disabilities.

Masum says he asked family and friends for help, but none of them came forward. “Instead, they said I should let my son die,” he says.

To raise money for the surgery, he sold his belongings and worked as a rickshaw driver. Hridoy’s mother, meanwhile, took a job in Lebanon as a housemaid. At first, she sent money home, but after a few months the payments stopped coming.

Masum continued caring for his son, often staying home when Hridoy fell sick.

Bristi’s story is not much different. After she was born, her father left, and her mother, Renu Begum, had to care for her and two other children alone. Bristi was unable stand or walk until her third year, and her slow development and disfigured hands and legs often upset her mother, who thought it was a punishment from God. She took Bristi to an exorcist, but never considered taking her to a doctor. She took it for granted that nothing would change.   

A positive turn

Things took a turn for Hridoy and Bristi when their families started to receive support from a government project supported by UNICEF, Child Sensitive Social Protection. Now Hridoy’s father owns two rickshaws and earns 4,000 taka (US$50) per month and spends more time with his son.  Hridoy has enrolled in pre-primary class and visits the drop-in-centre.     

Bristi has enrolled in the same school. “She is an intelligent girl and doing well in her studies,” says her teacher, Monwara Begum.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Bangladesh/2013/Khan
Bristi and Hridoy dance with their friends during class at a drop-in centre in Dhaka supported by UNICEF.

With the first installment of 9,000 taka ($ 113), Ms. Begum took her daughter to the doctor.  ”I have spent about half of the money for Bristi’s treatment,” she says. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to continue her treatment.”

Challenges to overcome

“Treatment for [disabled] children is expensive, and many families cannot afford to continue with health care,” says social worker Jakia Sultana. “People lose hope after one or two visits.” 

But Ms. Sultana is not ready to give up hope. She encourages the parents of Hridoy and Bristi to continue treatment and make sure they go to school.

Education has also given Bristi a newfound confidence.

“I want to be a judge in the future,” she says.

The Child Sensitive Social Protection project has supported 2,000 children in Dhaka, including 19 children with disabilities.


 

 

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